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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Language and politeness in the 'Nation of Propriety in the East' : a history of linguistic ideologies of Korean honorification Kim, Eunseon


The present study explores the history of discursive practices in constructing one important linguistic emblem of Korean ethno-national culture: Korean linguistic etiquette. The goal of this study is to reconsider the modern-day taken-for-granted understanding of the nature and workings of the grammatical rules of Korean politeness as supposedly embodying Korean society and culture and representing an objective description of a socio-cultural reality. This research argues that the culture-specific models of modern-day Korean linguistic politeness are an ideological artifact peculiar to the history of modernizing Korea. To that end, this study examines the historical formation of the cultural models of Korean linguistic politeness within a network of diverse practices. The analysis focuses on the semiotic processes whereby a set of linguistic repertoires in Korean became structuralized as ‘honorific language’ and gained significance as an icon of ethno-national culture. Primary sources are drawn from both folk and professional metapragmatic discourses over what it means to speak “politely” with regard to the images or identities of self and group. Such cultural models of linguistic politeness rationalize how linguistic practices of politeness should work and what they mean in Korean society and culture. By unraveling the linguistic and cultural political prerequisites for modern normalized views of the “Korean” practice of linguistic politeness, this dissertation demonstrates that it is the social actors’ perspectives on language and their ideological projects that have engendered the dominant societal understanding of Korean honorification in support of the linguistic community.

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